Core and chore, or me and more disruptive thinking

This is the text of a post I was invited to contribute to the Institutional Web Managers Workshop (IWMW) Blog as a retrospective to a presentation that Joe gave at the Workshop in 2009.

When Joe Nicholls and I started our conversation back in 2007 on what the IT Services role should look like in the age of “disruptive technologies”, we had a vision that things were never going to be the same again. Indeed in a farewell valedictory at the Welsh Universities IT Services Gregynog Colloquium in 2010 I gave a talk entitled “So that’s it for IT Services … or is it?” after previously writing “We’re all doomed …“. Therefore when Brian invited me to reflect on the relevance of the talk “Servicing ‘Core’ and ‘Chore’” that we presented at IWMW 2009 to the institution today, it set up a whole stream of thoughts running – which have taken some time to commit to words.

First of all I’m extremely grateful for two recent posts by Derek Law (on this blog) and Martin Weller (on the Ed Techie blog) which gave me the courage to proceed when I was beginning to feel that I had no place, being now a number of years out of active institutional web and IT Services involvement, to express any views – let alone suggest they might be relevant! Apparently I’m not completely out of step.

Essentially “‘Core’ and ‘Chore'” is about giving a different perspective – in fact a users perspective – on what an IT Service function needs to deliver in terms of service offering. It is an explicitly user-centric view of IT Services, as it looks to provide the user with the tools THEY require, and with the support THEY need to make full use of them. This is what we have called enablement. As a precursor to enablement, you need to go through a process of envisioning the possibilities that are available and how they might be incorporated into a users’ way of working and then engagement with the user, and as a result of following this process in partnership with the user, you aspire to deliver excellent education. We presented these ideas in a paper at Eunis 2009.

Just words I hear you say, but look at a few of the slides from Joe’s slideset and then judge the relevance to your institution today.


The individual researcher or student has a completely different view of what they want, and need, from an IT service offering. All they require are tools and training in their use to get the educational task done. This is core to them.


For them the interaction with corporate systems is a chore, often an unpleasant diversion from getting things done!


This leads into a conflict because much of what the individual requires is outside the institutional firewall, and by its placement “in the cloud” is “not controllable” by the organisation. I have discussed governance and security elsewhere and previously, and don’t intend to follow that up here. Suffice to say, both issues can be resolved, through trust and education. Working in partnership. Thus we arrive at this seeming impasse …

The ‘core’ services and activities to the institution are the ‘chore’ to the individual. The ‘core’ services and activities to the individual are often not identified by the institution as necessary, or at worst are actively prevented from happening.

I would love to be able to say that I am confident that what Joe and I presented back in 2009 at IWMW has now been committed to the Room 101 of institutional web history as having been acknowledged, accepted and actioned. I fear it hasn’t. In fact I know it hasn’t as the horror stories of failed collaboration across institutions, of difficulties in migrating content into, out of and between institutions, and the failure of the very seemingly straightforward task of ensuring proper archiving of digital content is accessible outside the institution, continue seemingly in an unremitting manner.

So I conclude with just one plea for institutional web managers. I realise that you will most certainly not be in a position to alter institutional strategy, but please just please remember the individual in your service offering. Be prepared to readily provide advice on setting up a personal web presence outside the institution – that means providing advice on getting personal or project domains. Be open to the probability that researchers will want to port content out of institutional systems when they move, or retire, and have a way that enables them to do that easily. Be aware that digital content only lasts as long as it is archived properly – boring I know but time spent now will prevent tears later on. Be an envisioned and engaged web manager, enabling the user to achieve their educational objectives. Your attendance at IWMW 20, suggests that you are well on the way to doing this.


Just supposin’ … [Part 1]

… “What you’re proposing“. I’d always wondered whether I’d get Quo into a blogpost, and now I have. However this post is nothing to do with them … it’s all about me!

In my last post I hinted that I was unhappy about large corporates holding my data, and my web experience being controlled by them as well. I had particularly got the hump about the way Google was treating its users. First the way it retires applications that you’d used for many a day, viz. Google Reader, Picasa (and others). Then  secondly the way it changes the functionality of applications viz. Google Photos and Google+, that make them actually less useful and usable.

But it’s not just Google. Apple has killed off Aperture but the replacement, Photos, doesn’t yet have the full functionality of even iPhotos. Ancestry have announced that they will retire their Family Tree Maker desktop application at the end of this year. [They have bowed to user pressure however to try and arrange other software vendors to take existing FTM-users under their wing.] Other apps which I’ve used have either disappeared (too many to mention) or have been frozen, eg the very excellent Everytrail which has had no development and hardly any maintenance since it was bought by TripAdvisor. [It’s pretty obvious that they didn’t want the application – they just wanted the data.]

There are exceptions to this trend and full credit should be given to  a group of committed users for setting up blipfuture to crowdsource the successful (as of this week) buy-back of blipfoto to form a Community Interest Company through shared ownership using ShareIn as the vehicle to raise funds.

So what does, or should, one do about this. You could just throw up your hands and accept that your carefully curated photos, trails, tracks, memories, blogposts (yes, remember Posterous) were always intended to be ephemeral (post-hoc rationalism) and there’s nothing you can do about it (acceptance). Alternatively you could decide to do something about it, and take matters back more into your own hands, to regain control. So that was my plan when I started my investigations into using Open Source Software and alternative hosting arrangements.

I first looked at IndieWeb. Granted this would only give me better control over my social data, but it was a start, and combining this with services I already had in place would future-proof social communications at least. However, I’m afraid I found setting up really challenging and so I couldn’t advocate it for anyone who wasn’t a techie. I did set up a website using the Indieweb Plugins and I intend to continue further along this path to see just where it takes me, but that might take quite a long time.

I’ve now started to look at diaspora* which looks very promising, particularly if I can run it on my Hosted service. I’ve learnt my lesson though and won’t proceed without someone else sharing their experiences with me.

So that’s where my thinking is leading me. I suggested in a presentation I gave at Gregynog in 2010 that one outcome of the increasing use of Social Networking Services and the adoption of Cloud and Distributed services might be for services to take-up and develop more Open Source Software. I hadn’t thought at that time for it to be of value for the individual – more just a way for services to enable the individual to be able to access cloud services; but now I can see the compelling use-case for Open Source to be at least part of the solution for the user to wrestle control of their data back for at least part of “our data”.

Next: What software and cloud service can I rely on, and how should I develop a sustainable digital way of working.

PS In case you were just supposin’ … I do hope to go and watch Quo during their last electric tour, possibly at Caldicot Castle in August.